There was always going to be a Goosebumps 2. The original made just enough money and just enough of a cultural impact that the risk involved in slapping this thing together was probably so minimal that it doesn’t matter that Jack Black, star of that first film, only shows up as a quick voice cameo this time around. More than that, the book series that these films are based on equally has just enough of a nostalgic pull for a certain age group that the green light was assured from the get-go. Whether that all adds up to an interesting or worthwhile reason to make a film is debatable. What’s assured is that you can make any number of Monster Squad-type films like this and see enough of a return on investment that these things can pretty much go on forever.
Mercifully, that’s not the worst thing in the world. Goosebumps 2 is exactly that kind of movie that the younger kids out there who think they want to see It or The Conjuring actually want to see. It’s a movie about kids for kids, with all the usual supernatural scary-enough mayhem that goes with a PG outing like this. In fact, it’s actually more intense than I was expecting at times, getting just that tiny bit darker and weirder than it ever needed to, always to good effect. A few sequences even recall the absurdist horror of The Blob or An American Werewolf in London, taking the kids of this world down very disturbing paths indeed. The most surprising aspect of those elements and of the film as a whole is that it never forgets its own audience, letting the kids off the hook right at the last moment so no one ends up too traumatized by all this freakiness.
Normally, I’d argue that kids need a good scare. If I had to graph my own horror movie upbringing, I’d probably say I saw more disturbing and downright evil films before age 20 than after, but that’s only because back then there was such a push to consume as much gore and grime as possible that to admit that by age 18 I still hadn’t sat through Cannibal Holocaust would be to admit that I still wet the bed and would never move out of my parents’ house. But times have changed, and there’s a certain Spielbergian weightlessness going on with a lot of these tween horror joints that I’m sure is appreciated in an age when any number of cinematic atrocity exhibitions can be pulled up in a matter of seconds. They don’t all have to be Poltergeist.
On the other hand, I couldn’t stop wondering how a script like this would have fared by taking its premise just a single step further. But that’s where, I’d guess, it clicks into place for the kids who actually want to see stuff like this. Possessed puppets, man-eating gummy bears, walking goblin costumes and dusty old manuscripts are all cool and creepy enough on their own. But with a film like this, it’s the nightmares they’ll inspire in kids of a certain age that will get them prepped for the more gruesome stories out there. Horror always needs gateway drugs, and these Goosebumps films are doing a hell of a job. Rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language.
Now playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.